Gospel of Thomas Saying 42

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This Gospel of Thomas Commentary is part of the Gospel of Thomas page at Early Christian Writings.

Nag Hammadi Coptic Text

Gospel of Thomas Coptic Text


(42) Jesus said: Become passers-by!


(42) Jesus said, "Be passersby."


47 [42]. Jesus says: "You must be <as> passers-by!"

Funk's Parallels

2 Cor 4:16, Acts of John 76, Petrus Alphonsi.

Visitor Comments

What does a passerby do? He observes and gathers information. Then he keeps moving on to new areas (of study). Two-fold in the sense that we should view ourselves as passing by the world, waiting to move on to the next. Move on, don't build your spiritual house in this world.
- wacky41

Remember that you are only passing through this world, not committed to this world and this world only.
- active-mystic

The admonition is to be as one who "wears the world as a loose garment." To be a passerby is to be one who has let go of the world and all its things--to be a person who is spiritual.
- water_year

The conscious personality is transient. Pass by those who regard themselves as fixed.
- Rodney

Be IN the world but not OF the world. Be transients, passers-by. Put another way, the actor should not become Hamlet, he is only to act the part, not be swallowed up by it. Do not become a prisoner of the world, remain only a visitor using it as a training school.
- Thief37

Don't be attached. Create some emotional distance between yourself and the world. In Buddhism, the root cause of suffering is attachment. So perhaps it is not so much a case of creating detachment, but preventing attachment. The body and the world passes, what perseveres is our spiritual efforts, or lack thereof.
- Zooie

Never be defined by one place or situation. Be passersby.
- Hoya

Perhaps only in passing by as an observer of the action of the world can one truly come to an appreciation of it and of the IT that the world is built upon, call it God etc. One who passes through is as much a messenger as he/she is a listener; the lifestyle here dictated is one of devotion to both observation of the world and to the need for people to strengthen communication of the 'truth'.
- alex

Passer by, meaning that this life should only be a temporary thing and that the life after should be our only goal.
- Rob

The Grondlin Interlinear Translation says, "Come to be as you(pl) pass-away". This 'pass-on' is not "pass-by" in the text, and there is no "as" there, either. While "passers-by" is no doubt correct, on one level of understanding, for not dwelling on things, there is another, deeper level which, IMO, corresponds to the critical importance of Catholic extreme unction and Buddhist passing on with a clear mind.
- Dai Gidan

Scholarly Quotes

Marvin Meyer writes: "This saying may also be translated 'Be wanderers'; compare descriptions in early Christian literature of wandering teachers and missionaries. Another possible but less likely translation is, 'Come into being as you pass away'; compare the use of the same word parage as 'pass away' in the first riddle in saying 11, and other statements similar to this translation of saying 42 (for example, 2 Corinthians 4:16; Acts of John 76: 'Die so that you may live'). Tjitze Baarda, 'Jesus Said: Be Passers-By,' suggests yet another possible translation, 'Be Hebrews,' with the understanding of Philo of Alexandria that the word 'Hebrews' may be taken as 'migrants.' A medieval author, Petrus Alphonsi, preserves a saying much like saying 42 in his Clerical Instruction: 'This world is, as it were, a bridge. Therefore, pass over it, only do not lodge there.' A very similar saying attributed to Jesus is preserved in the form of an Arabic inscription at the site of a mosque at Fatehpur-Sikri, India." (The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus, p. 87)

William R. Schoedel translates, "Jesus said: Come into being as you pass away." Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: "Presumably the saying has much the same meaning as Paul's words (2 Corinthians 4:16): 'If our outer man is perishing, our inner man is renewed day by day.'" (The Secret Sayings of Jesus, p. 155)

Bentley Layton writes: "participle of the Greek verb paragein, 'to go past (something or someone).' Epitaphs on Greek tombstones of the period often salute the 'stranger' or 'passerby' (usually called ksenos or parodites), as though in the words of the corpse buried in the tomb. Cf. no. 56. The saying may also be a recommendation of the life of a wandering ascetic, like St. Thomas in The Acts of Thomas." (The Gnostic Scriptures, p. 387)

M. A. Williams writes: "Saying 42 of Gos. Thom. offers the laconic admonition 'Become passersby,' which might be read as advocating the lifestyle of the solitary, itinerant ascetic, and this may favor the conclusion that we should hear the connotation of solitary asceticism in at least the Greek term monachos in this gospel." (Rethinking "Gnosticism", p. 140)

Helmut Koester writes: "There are many sayings in Thomas (a number of these shared with the canonical Gospels) which specify the kind of behavior and mode of living in the world that is appropriate to those who are truly 'children of the Father.' At the heart of this life style is a social radicalism that rejects commonly held values. The sayings speak of rejecting the ideal of a settled life in house and home, and they require itineracy: [42]." (Ancient Christian Gospels, p. 127)

F. F. Bruce writes: "In other words, do not settle down here. These words are later ascribed to Jesus in some strands of Muslim tradition (although in other strands they are ascribed to Muhammad or to one of his companions). The most famous instance of their ascription to Jesus in Muslim tradition is on the main gateway of the mosque erected in 1601 at Fathpur-Sikri, south of Delhi, by the Moghul Akbar the Great; it bears the inscription: 'Jesus, on whom be peace, said: "This world is a bridge. Pass over it; but do not build your dwelling there."'" (Jesus and Christian Origens Outside the New Testament, p. 130)

R. McL. Wilson writes: "In favour of its primitive character Jeremias quotes a saying from the Mishnah, while Bauer adduces a parallel in the Disciplina Clericalis of Petrus Alfonsi in the twelfth century. Bauer also refers to 1 John ii. 17 and I Corinthians vii. 31 for the idea of the transitory character of this world and its desires; it may be appropriate to recall those passages in the New Testament which speak of Christians as strangers and sojourners, whose citizenship is in heaven (e.g. I Peter i. 1, ii. 11, Phil. iii. 20)." (Studies in the Gospel of Thomas, p. 104)

J. D. Crossan writes: "As with the saying in Gos. Thom. 42, 'Become passers-by,' so also does this saying [86] bespeak a homelessness for humanity within this world." (In Fragments, p. 241)

Funk and Hoover write: "This saying is short, pithy, aphoristic in tone, and open to plural interpretations. It coheres with other sayings attributed to Jesus in which he advocates a mendicant or countercultural lifestyle: 'Be passersby' suggests to some a life spent consorting with toll collectors and sinners, in eating and drinking, in homeless itinerancy. These aspects prompted half of the Fellows to vote red or pink." (The Five Gospels, p. 496)

Funk and Hoover write: "The saying occurs only in Thomas. It can therefore also be understood as a creation of Thomas in which this evangelist counsels detachment from the world, one of his favorite themes (21:6; 27:1; 56:1-2; 80:1-2; 110; 111:3). On this understanding, it does not merely reflect a certain lifestyle, it dictates one. The other half of the Fellows were therefore inclined to the view that this saying represents an attempt on the part of the community to define its patterns of social behavior, as a way of distinguishing itself from the rest of the world. The Fellows who took this view voted gray or black." (The Five Gospels, p. 496)

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Gospel of Thomas Saying 42

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